Infinite Landscapes - The Melancholy World of Caspar David Friedrich

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A lone figure stands poised on a precipice. Facing away from the viewer, he overlooks a swirl of mists, pierced by jagged rocks. Heroic, mysterious, and evocative, Caspar David Friedrich’s “Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog” is the ultimate depiction of the Romantic era – an enigmatic genius at one with nature. 

Few people outside of Germany know much about the man behind the canvas, but times are changing. 2024 marks Friedrich’s 250th birthday and throughout this anniversary year, there are exhibitions all over Germany celebrating the country’s greatest landscape painter.

A new understanding

At Berlin’s Alte Nationalgalerie of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Assistant Curator Dr. Sintje Guericke is putting the finishing touches to Caspar David Freidrich: Infinite Landscapes, an exhibition over a decade in the making. The retrospective aims to reposition Friedrich not only as a man in tune with the spirit of his times but as someone who still speaks to us today.

“The whole story of him becoming this recurring, modern-day icon is so interesting. There was the rediscovery of his works in a 1906 exhibition in Berlin. Then he was very unpopular after the Second World War, because of the Nazi connection, and was purposefully forgotten again. Only in the 70s with more international exhibitions, this renewed interest and perspective allowed the German audience to reconsider him.” Dr. Guericke explains. 

Caspar David Friedrich's poignant landscapes capture a complex mix of grandeur and melancholia, that have long resonated with Germans. Though he predates a unified Germany, his work remains strikingly relevant. As Dr. Guericke explains, "The core of his art is the relationship between the individual and the world, a theme that continues to resonate today. We, like Friedrich's contemporaries, seek answers and grapple with a sense of loss, finding solace in his powerful

Guericke, Dr. Sintje
"The core of his art is the relationship between the individual and the world, a theme that continues to resonate today"

Artistic beginnings

Born in 1774 in Greifswald, a seaport on the Baltic coast, tragedy marked Friedrich's early years. His mother and several siblings died young, including a brother who perished saving him from a frozen lake. This harrowing event, echoed in his work "The Sea of Ice," shaped his introspective nature.

Artistic ambition took him to Copenhagen to study, then Dresden to make his fortune but his childhood home was never far from his thoughts, its windswept seashore inspiring many memorable motifs. Two of his most avant-garde works – “The Monk by the Sea” and “Abbey in the Oakwood” – were purchased by Prussian Prince Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig, catapulting Friedrich into prominence. 

His popularity soared in the 1820s but waned in the 1830s with the rise of new artistic movements. Though he continued to paint until he died in 1840, he was largely forgotten until the early 20th century. A rediscovery of his work led to his adoption as a favourite by the Nazis, who saw his mystical landscapes as reflecting the German soul. After the war, his work was reassessed, separating the art from the “Aryan” ideology.

Expert favourites & hidden gems

Dr Guericke advises visitors to pay attention to his drawings, to discover his artistic processes – “Friedrich's art is something that takes time. You need to delve into his world and imagery, both with the paintings and the drawings. It's something to make people take a closer look - they're very beautiful”.

She encourages looking beyond the obvious stars to some of her personal favourites: Elbe Landscape (with Two Women Gathering Brush)”, a small painting with two women collecting grains. It has such an optimistic spirit, something people don't always connect with Friedrich.

Another is “Morning Mist in the Mountains”, I think all of his depictions of fog are exciting because they have such an ambivalence - is the fog coming or going? Is it morning or evening? You can never really tell. Sometimes they seem very modern, almost abstract in a way. I love that.

Caspar David Friedrich: Infinite Landscapes is at the Alte Nationalgalerie from 19 April - 4 August. For tickets, please contact our dedicated concierge team during your stay at Hotel de Rome.

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